We have been covering the solo debut of Nick Zammuto and his new band, simply titled Zammuto, ever since the announcement of their first self-titled release earlier this year. After all of those articles written for the blog, including an album review earlier this month, we finally got the chance to witness Zammuto live at The Glass House in Pomona, and what a moment it was.
The band only got to perform for a half-hour, but it was an arresting half-hour of turbulent sounds, accompanying visuals, and lovely craftsmanship. Kicking things off with “The Shape of Things To Come” and making headway into “F U C3PO,” the energy progressively improved with the harmonics of each song, and the audience was certainly more into it as the time passed. Nick–putting on multiple hats as a guitarist, vocalist, and electronic tinkerer–aptly performed the few tracks from the record with the same charisma and generosity found on the studio recordings.
Photos by Bryan Honig
Songs like “YAY” and “The Greatest Autoharp Solo In The World” were met with great interest, as each accompanying video or image brought a visual element to the song. Nick’s use of vocal effects was hypnotic enough to warrant an hour’s worth of material, but the hilarious “people with back pain” visuals also enhanced the arrangement. He went so far as to chop up parts of a video of an old skilled gentleman playing the autoharp and then have the band ignite the audio into a full-fledged texture, making great use of The Glass House’s acoustics.
On top of seeing Zammuto perform live, we were able to stop in to say hello to Nick and ask him a few questions to tantalize his mind before the band went up on stage:
What is it like to record in a studio you built for yourself? Liberating? Restrictive?
It’s not restrictive. I built the studio myself so it’s tailored to how I want to work. Every morning I have my cup of coffee, and I walk across the grass, enter the studio, and work all day. Music, especially the kind of music I work on, requires a lot of constant looping.
Some days I feel like a pioneer, out on the frontier and going like, “This is awesome!” and just having fun, and other days it’s just like slamming my head against the wall. Nothing sounds good to me. “Why am I doing this? This sucks.” But that’s how records get done. It’s sort of a painful process, but it’s punctuated by the moments that are pure bliss.
Working at home is great, though. Working in my home was problematic, but now I have a studio separate from my house, so I can wake up in the middle of night, start banging the drums, and I won’t wake up anybody. I never have to use headphones anymore, which is fantastic.
You’ve stated before that your style of music has a tendency to trigger some kind of visual and mental picture. Do you think your music reveals the same image for everyone, or is it really a personal, individual experience?
I do think it is pretty individual. I like to keep it open to interpretation. I don’t want to fill somebody’s head with a particular image and have that be the only possibility. I like the idea that people can get really different pictures and different feelings out of it.
So for a song like “Zebra Butt”…
Ha! That one was more like planting a specific image. It’s kind of a joke. It’s sort of white boy funk taken to the absolute extreme. The zebra butt has this kind of funny, metaphorical thing going for it.
And the pile of sticks that grace the album cover?
I actually didn’t know that was going to be the record cover until I set that thing on fire. It was a scary, big fire. I thought to myself, “My whole field is going to burn down!” The pile of sticks came from an ice storm we had, and I had nothing else to do with them, so I kept piling the sticks until they were gone. The front cover is the pile of sticks and the back cover is the pile of ashes that were left over. It’s sort of mentally captured where I was making the record, so it was a transitional theme, kind of seeing the death of my former project.
I was just going to mention that. I am a big fan of The Books (no pressure). But do you find the new album provides a proper transition for listeners of your older material? And how would you describe your music to first timers?
I mean, I hope that listeners of The Books will at least take a chance and try this out. I don’t assume that everyone is going to like it. It does have somewhat of a different sound, but it’s a direction that, even during The Books, I wanted to move into for a long time. I’m working with a band rather than this meta project that had a very strong electronica sound, especially with the rhythmic side. I wanted something that we could go out and play rock shows and go head-to-head with that kind of environment. Working with Sean Dixon on drums, Gene Back on guitars and keyboards, and my brother Mikey on bass is great, and now we can play louder, and it’s a much more visceral show.
The Books became kind of a museum piece, which I thought for a while would be a cool direction to go in, but after playing sterile venues for a while and watching people sit quietly and sort of applaud at the end, I’d much rather play something more chaotic for standing audiences like tonight. I also think the new album is much more accessible. (The tracks) still have their twists and turns, but they have a heartbeat that wasn’t present in my earlier work, and that’s definitely a conscious thing. It’s cool to see some audiences actually dancing to some of our songs. There’s so much unexpected joy on both sides, and we’re enjoying this phase of our lives.
So as far as your “new” sound goes, what gets your synapses going in your brain to interpret a sound or find the right thrift-shop sample or refine a concept from scratch and then knowingly say “That’s it. That’s what I want.”?
That is a mystery of chemistry. I just know it when I see it. I think everybody has a different set of fetishes like that. For me, it’s really a long process of finding those elements that get my heart rate going before I even figure out how they fit together. I feel like I have a collection of these moments. I can’t really create them on the spot or on purpose. They just sort of happen by accident.
Any outside input?
Working with Gene and Sean has been excellent. I never show them what the finished product is going to be. I always give them as little information as possible. Like, “Okay. Here’s a tempo and a key. Go!” They just improvise for a couple hours and then I go through the record and find that moment that says something that goes way beyond my expectations of what can happen.
It’s been really inspiring to work with them, and I am by far the worst musician in the band. I can barely play my instruments and I can barely sing, but these guys play their asses off, and it’s really exciting for me to absorb that energy. I feel like I’m always trying to play catch-up to their musicianship, which is exactly where I want to be. That’s the great upside of the end of The Books. We had a good ten year run, but I still have some youthful energy left to try and start again.
So it’s not so much of a “rebirth” as it’s refashioning your sound to what you now want to do?
I guess so. I mean, I’m working with almost the same team of people from The Books, so it’s not like we’re starting from scratch. But it is under a different name, and so that kind of automatically sets us apart. I’m psyched to get a whole new group of people in however we can, and that’s what this tour is about. We’re playing for people that we would have never otherwise played to before.
Finally I just want to ask: you have a growing family and a wonderful career, so what are three words that define success for you?
The thing is, I don’t really believe in success. I just don’t think it exists. Every record is a chance to make another record, so all I’m asking is to get the opportunity to keep going. I don’t need a lot, and success doesn’t really involve money. But I think respect is important to me. I want to feel a camaraderie with artists and work together in interesting ways. Balance is another important thing. I’m never going to be a frontman or be comfortable in that position, and that’s not what I’m trying to do here. I believe a band has an equally important weight.
And for the last thing…do you know when music grows on you? Like when you listen to it for the first time and you know that something’s there that makes you want to listen a second time? That’s kind of what I’m after. Here’s a good third one: slow burn. I like to provide an important theme like with The Books. We’re not looking to just go over-the-top. We want people to get used to it, and part of the process of understanding it is to not get it all at once. You have to spend some time with it. That’s kind of the litmus test for the audience. I want to make love that just lasts for hours.
We’ll be keeping up with Zammuto as time goes on! He promises more shows in the fall of this year, and he will also be at Origami Vinyl this Saturday, April 21st, for Record Store Day. In the meantime, you can still catch him at the following dates, and be sure to listen to Zammuto, now available on Temporary Residence.
Zammuto Tour Dates:
04/20 – Visalla, CA – The Cellar Door
04/22 – Flagstaff, AZ – Orpheum Theater *
04/24 – San Antonio, TX – Backstage Live *
04/30 – Brooklyn, NY – Glasslands
05/01 – Annandale-on-Hudson, NY – Bard College
* with Explosions in the Sky
For more info: Zammuto’s Official Website